Tuesday, October 04, 2016

This Swedish Company Was Working With Autophagy Before The Nobel Prize Made It Cool

Via Business Insider:

When the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to the Japanese researcher Yoshinoru Ohsumi on Monday, the not so widely known phenomenon called autophagy came into focus. The term is constructed from the Greek ‘auto’ meaning ‘self’ and ‘phagein’ which meas to eat – so autophagy means ‘self-eating’.

It has nothing to do with cannibalism, however, but with a fundamental physiological process that breaks down and recycles the cell’s own constituents.

If the autophagic function is defect, nerve cells can’t function properly, for example. Experimental studies have also shown that such defects mean that embryos don’t develop normally. There are also strong links between autophagy and cancer. In early stages of cancer the cellular process has a beneficial effect, but in later stages autophagy can actually help cancer cells survive.

This poses a challenge which has been taken on by the Swedish company Sprint Bioscience, led by a former researcher at Astrazeneca and Pharamacia/Biovitrum. Sprint Bioscience, listed on Nasdaq First North has earned a name for itself by securing two big deals: one with Bayer and the other with Petra Pharma.

What does this year’s Nobel Prize imply for you?

“It goes to show that we have a good sense for project selection”, says Anders Åberg, CEO and one of five co-founders of Sprint Bioscience.

“It also creates some buzz for the research area and shows that the Nobel Prize hasn’t lost its credibility despite the problems at Karolinska Instutet”.

The project that Sprint Bioscience is currently pursuing involves inactivating a protein called vps34, which is involved in initiating autophagy in cells.

”When you start treating cancer cells, their defense against treatment is usually autophagy. Tumor cells will sometimes also send signals to cells in their vicinity so that the autophagy is initiated in them as well and cause the cancer to spread”.

Sprint Bioscience has conducted research on the vps34 protein for five years and is currently doing toxicity studies to prepare the project for clinical testing on humans.

The Japanese company Takeda is the largest in the field, but according to Anders Åberg many big companies have already tried unsuccessfully.

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